fishes text index | photo index
Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrata > fishes
Family Scorpaenidae
updated Oct 2020
if you learn only 3 things about them ...
They are well camouflaged. Look carefully to find them.
Some have venomous spines. Don't handle them!
Their venom is only used for protection from predators and not to catch prey.

Where seen? These prickly well-camouflaged fishes are seen on many of our shores, in seagrass and coral rubble areas. Masters of disguise, some can also be very small. Most stay motionless and thus do not betray their presence through movement. Patience and a keen eye is required to spot one.

What are scorpionfishes? Scorpionfishes belong to the Family Scorpaenidae. Among members of this family are the most venomous fishes known. According to FishBase: the family has 23 genera and 172 species, most are bottom-dwellers. They are found on tropical and temperate seas. Some of the fishes that used to be in Family Scorpaenidae are now placed under several different families including Family Apistidae (wasp scorpionfishes), Family Tetrarogidae (waspfishes) and Family Synanceiidae (stonefishes).

Features: Some are tiny and hide among seaweeds. Others may be larger. Scorpionfishes have large heads. There is a bony ridge on the cheek. The scorpionfish's mottled pattern matches its surroundings perfectly. Sometimes, the same species living in different locations can have different colours and patterns. It can also darken and lighten its colours. Scorpionfishes are generally bottom dwellers. Some species lack a swim bladder.

Sting like a fish: The common name of these fishes comes from the stinging pain that they can inflict. When stepped upon or mishandled, the stout spines on the dorsal fins act like hypodermic needles, injecting venom into the offending foot or hand. The venom is excruciating to humans. Some species are commonly called waspfishes for their nasty stings. Some also have venomous anal and pelvic fins. Scorpionfishes should thus NOT be handled. Even dead ones.

A scorpionfish uses its venom only for protection and not to catch or kill prey. The scorpionfish is not aggressive and prefers to hide or swim away, using its venom only as a last resort. The best way to avoid being stung is simply not to disturb or touch one.

Perfectly camouflaged!
Tanah Merah, Jul 11

The Lionfish doesn't bother to hide!
Pulau Hantu, Aug 15
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his blog.
Scorpionfish mimic: The False scorpionfish (Centrogenys vaigiensis) looks and behaves like a scorpionfish but belong to the Family Serranidae which includes groupers. By mimicking the more venomous scorpionfishes, the false scorpionfish probably manages to discourage most predators. Here's more on how to tell apart fishes that look like stones.

The Stonefish is from a different family.

The False scorpionfish is
from a dffierent family.

The Long-spined waspfish is
now in a different family
What do they eat? Most scorpionfishes skulk on or near the bottom, staying motionless for hours to ambush passing prey. They will eat any prey that can fit into the large mouth including fishes and crustaceans. Some species may specialise in a particular kind of prey.

Scorpionfish babies: Most scorpionfishes reproduce through internal fertilisation. Some species lay their eggs in a gelatinous balloon. The larvae are planktonic.

Human uses: Scorpionfishes are venomous but not poisonous. In temperate climates, large members of this group called rockfishes or rockcods (Sebastes sp.) are considered good eating and are caught by sport fishermen as well as commercially for as food fish. Rockfishes are vulnerable to overfishing as they grow slowly and reach maturity late.

Tropical scorpionfishes of various kinds are extensively harvested from the wild for the live aquarium trade. The Lionfish (Pterois volitans) is particularly popular. Harvesting tropical scorpionfishes for the live aquarium trade may involve the use of cyanide or blasting, which damage the habitat and kill many other creatures. Like other fish and creatures harvested for the live aquarium trade, most die before they can reach the retailers. Without professional care, most die soon after they are sold. Those that do survive are unlikely to breed successfully.

Some Scorpionfishes on Singapore shores

Painted scorpionfish

False stonefish

Large bulbous eyes protruding out of the head. Tiny eyes not protruding.
Small depression under the eye.

Family Scorpaenidae recorded for Singapore
from Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.
in red are those listed among the threatened animals of Singapore from Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore.
**from WORMS
+From our observation

  Family Scorpaenidae

Dendrochirus brachypterus
Dendrochirus zebra

Parascorpaena picta (Painted scorpionfish)

sp. (Lionfish) with species recorded for Singapore.

Scorpaenodes guamensis

Scorpaenopsis cirrosa
+Scorpaenopsis diabolus
(False scorpionfish)
Scorpaenopsis gibbosa

Sebastapistes tristis=**Sebastapistes strongia

  **now Family Apistidae (wasp scorpionfishes)

Apistus carinatus

  **now Family Tetrarogidae (waspfishes)

Cottapistus cottoides

Paracentropogon cyanocephalus
Paracentropogon leucoprosopon
Paracentropogon longispinis
(Longspined waspfish)
Paracentropogon bandanensis

Vespicula trachinoides (Mangrove waspfish)

  **now Family Synanceiidae (stonefishes)

Chloridactylus multibarbis=**Choridactylus multibarbus

Polycaulus uranoscopus (Stargazer waspfish)

  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Lim, S., P. Ng, L. Tan, & W. Y. Chin, 1994. Rhythm of the Sea: The Life and Times of Labrador Beach. Division of Biology, School of Science, Nanyang Technological University & Department of Zoology, the National University of Singapore. 160 pp.
  • Allen, Gerry, 2000. Marine Fishes of South-East Asia: A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Periplus Editions. 292 pp.
  • Kuiter, Rudie H. 2002. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia: A Comprehensive Reference for Divers & Fishermen New Holland Publishers. 434pp.
  • Lieske, Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral Reef Fishes of the World Periplus Editions. 400pp.
links | references | about | email Ria
Spot errors? Have a question? Want to share your sightings? email Ria I'll be glad to hear from you!
wildfactsheets website©ria tan 2008